Child care services provide care and development activities for children generally aged 12 years and younger. These services enable parents to participate in employment, education and training, community activities and personal activities. They may also be used for family support reasons. As a condition of government funding and regulation, child care services must promote and enhance children's emotional, intellectual, social and physical development. Dedicated preschool services offer educational and developmental programs for children in the year or two before full-time school.
In early 2008 the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) gained responsibility for child care (prior to this, child care was the responsibility of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA)). DEEWR funds most child care services through the Australian Government Child Care Support Program. DEEWR also provides supplementary funding for Indigenous children enrolled in government and non-government preschools under the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 in order to accelerate improvements to the educational outcomes of Indigenous Australians. During 2005-2008, over $500 million in Supplementary Recurrent Assistance (SRA) will be allocated to schools, including preschools (DEST 2004).
All state and territory governments fund dedicated preschool services. They also provide some funding for other child care services, either solely or in conjunction with the Australian Government.
The Australian Government supports mainstream child care services such as long day care centres, family day care services and outside hours care services, as well as culturally specific services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. These include:
- Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Services (MACS), which provide flexible services to meet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's social and developmental needs. MACS offer care for children under school age and for school age children, including long day care, playgroups, before and after school care and school holiday care, and cultural programs.
- Aboriginal Playgroups and Enrichment Programs. Aboriginal playgroups provide opportunities for children under school age and their parents to socialise and interact with one another. Enrichment programs provide supervised care, organised activities, homework centres and nutrition services for school age children.
Although not specifically for Indigenous children, the Australian Government also funds mobile children's services which visit remote areas and provide occasional care, school holiday care, playgroups, story telling, games and toy library services for children and information and support for parents.
Nationally, comprehensive and comparable data on children using child care and preschool services are not available. The development phase of a Children's Services National Minimum Data Set (CSNMDS) has been completed. The final report on the development of the CSNMDS was released in February 2007 and work is currently underway to develop options for its implementation. Since most child care services are supported by the Australian Government, the Census of Child Care Services (previously administered by FaHCSIA) is currently the most comprehensive source of data on Indigenous children attending child care services in Australia. Results from the 2006 Child Care Census are not yet available for reporting. Data from the 2004 Child Care Census are therefore provided.
In 2004, there were 651,044 children using Australian Government supported child care services, of whom 11,971 (1.8%) were Indigenous. Not surprisingly, Indigenous-specific services such as Aboriginal Playgroups and Enrichment Services and Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Services had the highest proportions of Indigenous children (88% and 79% respectively). Among mainstream services in 2004, around 10% of children using Mobile and Toy Library Services were Indigenous and 6% of children using Multifunctional Children's Services were Indigenous. Indigenous children represented less than 2% of all children using the remaining service types.
11.1 CHILDREN IN AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT SUPPORTED CHILD CARE, by Indigenous status and service type - May 2004
|Long day care centres ||% |
|Family day care ||% |
|Occasional care ||% |
|Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Services ||% |
|Multifunctional Children's Services ||% |
|Before/after school care (Outside of School Hours Care) services ||% |
|Vacation care ||% |
|Mobile and Toy Library Services ||% |
|Aboriginal Playgroups and Enrichment Services ||% |
|In-home Care Services ||% |
|Total ||% |
|- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells) |
|(a) Includes children for whom Indigenous status was not stated. |
|Source: 2004 FaCS Australian Government Census of Child Care Services |
Of all Indigenous children in Australian Government supported child care services, 51% were in long day care centres, 16% were in before/after school care and 9% were in family day care (table 11.1). The corresponding proportions for other Australian children were 59%, 25% and 14% respectively.
Some data are also available on the number of Indigenous children enrolled in state and territory funded and non-government funded preschool services from the annual census conducted by DEEWR. In 2006, there were 4,931 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children enrolled in state/territory funded preschools in all jurisdictions, excluding Queensland and Victoria (children attending state and territory funded preschools in Queensland and Victoria were excluded from the data collection in 2006), and there were a further 4,344 Indigenous children enrolled in non-government funded preschools in all states and territories.